Poverty in Essen, Germany: A Growing Dilemma

poverty in essenLast year Essen, Germany became famous for paying its homeless in cigarettes and alcohol. According to an article by NBC, the highly controversial program was intended as a way to get the homeless off the street. While this action was highly sensationalized, the coverage of this program failed to highlight the center of the issue: the rising poverty in Essen and Germany as a whole.

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) highlights that “at the end of August, while 14.7 percent of the population were poor in Germany’s 15 largest cities in 2005, by 2012 the rate had risen to 15.2 percent.”

The gap between rich and poor has been widening from gap, to gulf, to chasm since the 1980s, and Germany is no exception.

This rise in wealth inequality is particularly concrete in Essen, Germany. In Essen, the wealth gap is conveniently shown through geography. According to the article by WSWS, the northern parts of Essen are becoming poorer while the southern regions are becoming richer. Specifically, the site says that in the Southern part of the city, the number of millionaires is growing.

When looking at the travel site Rough Guides, the South is described as the place to go for food and sightseeing, while the “gritty north” in contrast, “preserves reminders of the city’s industrial greatness.” This indicates, perhaps, that development is exclusive to the southern region of the city.

In addition to the geographic economic segregation, Essen has one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany. According to Zeit Online, in February of 2015, the unemployment rate in Essen was 12.5 percent. At the same time, the average unemployment rate in Germany was 6.9 percent.

Essen is located in the Ruhr region of Germany, a region that, overall, is facing heightened poverty. Businesses in the Ruhr, such as the Steel Plant, are closing, while the German government is simultaneously cutting social welfare programs. Cutting these programs inevitably leads to the unemployment of the people who previously worked in this sector.

Why is the German government cutting programs essential to so many citizens’ survival?

Perhaps the government is trying to redistribute wealth, but the wealth is not going in the direction it needs to go. In the coming year, Germany needs to bring back the programs it has cut and find a new solution to many of its cities’ growing debts. While paying the homeless in cigarettes and alcohol to clean the streets may clean the streets of the homeless, it is not a solution to poverty. Rather than cutting programs that aid its people, Germany needs to recreate programs that bring jobs. Job creation equals wealth creation, which becomes a contribution to local city and national economies. Finally, Essen needs to stop spending its money on cigarettes and alcohol, and, instead, put it towards lasting change to the lives of its homeless.

– Clare Holtzman

Sources: NBC, Rough Guides, WSWS, Zeit Onlin
Photo: Needpix